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January 24, 2024
OSHA cites Ohio food warehouse for ergonomic hazards

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has cited Martin-Brower Co. LLC, a Fairfield, Ohio, food services warehouse, for exposing its employees to ergonomic hazards, the agency announced January 19.

Although there’s no federal ergonomics standard—a Clinton administration ergonomics rule was rescinded by Congress in 2001—OSHA cites employers for ergonomics hazards using its authority under the General Duty Clause (§5(a)(1)) of the Occupational Safety and Health Act.

The agency cited Martin-Brower with a serious violation of the General Duty Clause and serious violations of the standards for materials handling and the storage and handling of liquefied petroleum gas. OSHA also issued four hazard alert letters and proposed penalties totaling $41,483.  

Workers at the Fairfield food services warehouse suffered severe injuries at nearly four times the average rate for their industry, according to OSHA, with a high percentage of these injuries categorized as ergonomic musculoskeletal disorders (MSDs). Martin-Brower’s total recordable injury rate at the Fairfield facility was nearly four times higher from 2020 to 2023 than the industry average of 5.4 per 100 workers in 2021 for grocery and related wholesale products companies.

The Fairfield facility’s recordable injury rate for cases that involved days away, restriction, or transfer of employees was four times higher from 2021 to 2023 than the industry average of 4.1 per 100 workers, according to OSHA. During the same time period, the rate of severe ergonomic injuries alone at the Fairfield facility was at least two times higher than the industry average for all categories of severe injury and illness cases.

OSHA investigators found that workers at Martin-Brower performed manual material-handling lifting tasks that involved repeated hazardous forceful exertions and awkward postures, which placed them at risk for lower back injuries. Workers at the Fairfield facility move and load materials bound for fast-food restaurants in Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, and West Virginia. 

“OSHA found Martin-Brower Co. workers at high risk for musculoskeletal disorders because of the high frequency, long duration of hours worked, awkward postures, and weight of materials being lifted,” Ken Montgomery, OSHA’s Cincinnati area office director, said in an agency statement. “Work-related musculoskeletal disorders are among the most frequently reported causes of lost or restricted work time.” 

Ergonomic hazards are among the costliest workplace hazards for employers, according to insurer Liberty Mutual’s Workplace Safety Index (WSI). “Overexertion involving outside sources” (lifting heavy loads) tops the insurer’s WSI­. Overexertion injuries collectively cost employers $12.84 billion a year in medical costs and lost wages, and awkward postures, or “other exertions or bodily reactions,” cost employers $3.67 billion a year.

The National Safety Council (NSC) has focused efforts—many funded by online retailer Amazon—on both research into MSDs and the application of interventions. A recent report from the NSC’s MSD Solutions Lab concluded that larger employers—ones that have more than 1,000 employees—are generally more effective at mitigating MSD risks.

The report suggested that effective prevention programs involve engaging senior leadership, collecting and responding to worker feedback, and identifying ergonomic risk factors by involving frontline workers, then implementing appropriate workplace changes.

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